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Mental State Understanding and Moral Judgment in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

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Do children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) develop the ability to take into account an agent's mental states when they are judging the morality of his or her actions? Moreover, they are able to judge an agent that caused intentionally a bad outcome more harshly than an agent that caused it accidentally, although they do not produce verbal justifications that refer to the agent's intention (Grant et al., )... However, Steele et al. found that children with ASD aged 4–14 failed to distinguish between intentional and accidental bad acts (e.g., failing to come to a planned meeting as a result of canceling the plan without telling or as a result of the bus breaking)... A first evidence of an outcome-bias in the judgment in ASD individuals comes from those studies that reported a “heteronomous” (i.e., rules are understood as handed down by authority, and violations are wrong because they produce bad outcomes, namely they lead to punishment) rather than an “autonomous” (i.e., rules are based on socially agreed-on principles, and violations are wrong because of the agent's beliefs and motivations) moral reasoning in ASD school-aged children (Grant et al., ; Takeda et al., ; see also Fadda et al., )... A second and more direct evidence comes from a study that presented ASD individuals with accidental and failed attempted harms... Moran et al. found that they failed to distinguish between the two scenarios, and they judged the accidental harm significantly more harshly than TD individuals... Moreover, there is evidence of an activation of the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ)—an area associated with mental state reasoning—in TD individuals during the evaluation of intentional vs. accidental harm, but such result has not been found in adults with ASD (Koster-Hale et al., )... These results clearly suggest that ASD individuals fail to integrate the agent's mental states in their moral reasoning when judging situations in which intentions and outcomes present different valences (see Figure 1)... While emotional empathy skills help ASD children developing a basic moral judgment by relying on the emotional and external aspects of the moral case such as the victims' emotional reactions or the actions outcomes (Leslie et al., ; Hobson et al., ; Weisberg and Leslie, ), the poor understanding of the cognitive aspects hinders the development of an intent-based moral judgment... Nevertheless, ASD individuals show the ability to produce a basic moral judgment by relying on external cues such as the action outcomes and the victims' emotional reactions... Can these results turn out to be useful in guiding programs designed to improve moral judgment in children with ASD? Since a main result of the literature we reviewed is that individuals with ASD show difficulties in integrating mental states information in their judgments, clinical treatments, and educational programs aimed at improving their theory of mind abilities are likely to have, as a side-effect, a positive impact also on their moral reasoning abilities... Further research is needed to point out whether such a desiderable effect is achieved equally by any effective training on mentalizing skills (e.g., Silver and Oakes, ; Fisher and Happé, ; Begeer et al., ), or it is best achieved by a program that requires both mental state attribution and the generation of moral judgments.

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Main results concerning the mental state reasoning in ASD individuals' moral reasoning.
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Figure 1: Main results concerning the mental state reasoning in ASD individuals' moral reasoning.

Mentions: A first evidence of an outcome-bias in the judgment in ASD individuals comes from those studies that reported a “heteronomous” (i.e., rules are understood as handed down by authority, and violations are wrong because they produce bad outcomes, namely they lead to punishment) rather than an “autonomous” (i.e., rules are based on socially agreed-on principles, and violations are wrong because of the agent's beliefs and motivations) moral reasoning in ASD school-aged children (Grant et al., 2005; Takeda et al., 2007; see also Fadda et al., 2016). ASD children attributed moral wrongness and badness to actions that caused bad outcomes. A second and more direct evidence comes from a study that presented ASD individuals with accidental and failed attempted harms. Moran et al. (2011) found that they failed to distinguish between the two scenarios, and they judged the accidental harm significantly more harshly than TD individuals. Moreover, there is evidence of an activation of the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ)—an area associated with mental state reasoning—in TD individuals during the evaluation of intentional vs. accidental harm, but such result has not been found in adults with ASD (Koster-Hale et al., 2013). These results clearly suggest that ASD individuals fail to integrate the agent's mental states in their moral reasoning when judging situations in which intentions and outcomes present different valences (see Figure 1).


Mental State Understanding and Moral Judgment in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Main results concerning the mental state reasoning in ASD individuals' moral reasoning.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC5037184&req=5

Figure 1: Main results concerning the mental state reasoning in ASD individuals' moral reasoning.
Mentions: A first evidence of an outcome-bias in the judgment in ASD individuals comes from those studies that reported a “heteronomous” (i.e., rules are understood as handed down by authority, and violations are wrong because they produce bad outcomes, namely they lead to punishment) rather than an “autonomous” (i.e., rules are based on socially agreed-on principles, and violations are wrong because of the agent's beliefs and motivations) moral reasoning in ASD school-aged children (Grant et al., 2005; Takeda et al., 2007; see also Fadda et al., 2016). ASD children attributed moral wrongness and badness to actions that caused bad outcomes. A second and more direct evidence comes from a study that presented ASD individuals with accidental and failed attempted harms. Moran et al. (2011) found that they failed to distinguish between the two scenarios, and they judged the accidental harm significantly more harshly than TD individuals. Moreover, there is evidence of an activation of the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ)—an area associated with mental state reasoning—in TD individuals during the evaluation of intentional vs. accidental harm, but such result has not been found in adults with ASD (Koster-Hale et al., 2013). These results clearly suggest that ASD individuals fail to integrate the agent's mental states in their moral reasoning when judging situations in which intentions and outcomes present different valences (see Figure 1).

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED EXCERPT
Please rate it.

Do children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) develop the ability to take into account an agent's mental states when they are judging the morality of his or her actions? Moreover, they are able to judge an agent that caused intentionally a bad outcome more harshly than an agent that caused it accidentally, although they do not produce verbal justifications that refer to the agent's intention (Grant et al., )... However, Steele et al. found that children with ASD aged 4–14 failed to distinguish between intentional and accidental bad acts (e.g., failing to come to a planned meeting as a result of canceling the plan without telling or as a result of the bus breaking)... A first evidence of an outcome-bias in the judgment in ASD individuals comes from those studies that reported a “heteronomous” (i.e., rules are understood as handed down by authority, and violations are wrong because they produce bad outcomes, namely they lead to punishment) rather than an “autonomous” (i.e., rules are based on socially agreed-on principles, and violations are wrong because of the agent's beliefs and motivations) moral reasoning in ASD school-aged children (Grant et al., ; Takeda et al., ; see also Fadda et al., )... A second and more direct evidence comes from a study that presented ASD individuals with accidental and failed attempted harms... Moran et al. found that they failed to distinguish between the two scenarios, and they judged the accidental harm significantly more harshly than TD individuals... Moreover, there is evidence of an activation of the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ)—an area associated with mental state reasoning—in TD individuals during the evaluation of intentional vs. accidental harm, but such result has not been found in adults with ASD (Koster-Hale et al., )... These results clearly suggest that ASD individuals fail to integrate the agent's mental states in their moral reasoning when judging situations in which intentions and outcomes present different valences (see Figure 1)... While emotional empathy skills help ASD children developing a basic moral judgment by relying on the emotional and external aspects of the moral case such as the victims' emotional reactions or the actions outcomes (Leslie et al., ; Hobson et al., ; Weisberg and Leslie, ), the poor understanding of the cognitive aspects hinders the development of an intent-based moral judgment... Nevertheless, ASD individuals show the ability to produce a basic moral judgment by relying on external cues such as the action outcomes and the victims' emotional reactions... Can these results turn out to be useful in guiding programs designed to improve moral judgment in children with ASD? Since a main result of the literature we reviewed is that individuals with ASD show difficulties in integrating mental states information in their judgments, clinical treatments, and educational programs aimed at improving their theory of mind abilities are likely to have, as a side-effect, a positive impact also on their moral reasoning abilities... Further research is needed to point out whether such a desiderable effect is achieved equally by any effective training on mentalizing skills (e.g., Silver and Oakes, ; Fisher and Happé, ; Begeer et al., ), or it is best achieved by a program that requires both mental state attribution and the generation of moral judgments.

No MeSH data available.